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1 Corinthians 10:4–5

“All drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (v. 4).

Rabbinic tradition, which forms the foundation of modern Judaism, often engages in fanciful readings of the Old Testament. A popular reading of the story of the exodus found in the teaching of ancient rabbis is that the rock from which Moses drew water for the Israelites (Ex. 17:1–7) somehow followed the people around while they were in the wilderness, continuing to supply them with drink. Given that the tradition is old, many commentators have said Paul is referring to it in today’s passage when he identifies the rock that followed Israel as Christ (1 Cor. 10:4).

However, this understanding is very unlikely. Although the rabbinic tradition is old, it likely does not go back to the first century and the time of Paul’s writing. Furthermore, the Old Testament gives us no real evidence that an actual rock followed the Israelites around as they wandered in the wilderness, and Paul is not one to engage in such far-fetched readings of the biblical story. Almost certainly, Paul is using the word “rock” in connection with Moses’ later reference to God as a rock (Deut. 32:4). We have already seen that Paul refers to the water from the rock as spiritual drink in the sense that it was provided by God, who is spirit (John 4:24). In saying that Jesus is the Rock who followed the Israelites, Paul is identifying Him as the God—the “Rock” of Deuteronomy 32:4—and Provider for Israel. In other words, Paul is giving us a high Christology (doctrine of Christ) that defines Jesus as very God of very God. As Charles Hodge comments, Christ “was the source of all the support which the Israelites enjoyed during their journey in the wilderness.”

That wilderness generation enjoyed many benefits, including baptism into Moses (1 Cor. 10:1–4). However, as Paul says in today’s passage, most of them died in the wilderness and did not enter the Promised Land because God was displeased with them (v. 5). Thus we see that the Apostle is using this bit of history as a warning to the Corinthians, particularly regarding the dangers of idolatry. In the wilderness, the Israelites often worshiped false gods or worshiped the true God in false ways (Ex. 32; Num. 25), and this contributed to the failure of most of that generation to enter the Promised Land. It is possible for people to start out well, even to be baptized and profess faith, and then later fall into idolatry. All those who persist in this never come to saving faith (1 John 2:19).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Idolatry is an ever-present threat to the people of God. Even the most faithful believers among us can fall into it through holding a false view of the Lord or by making something other than God the primary focus of our affections. One way we can help keep this from happening is remembering that Christ is the God and the Rock who provides for all our needs. Focusing on Him will make it more difficult for us to fall into idolatry.


For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 9
  • Nehemiah 9:9–21
  • Acts 7:1–53
  • Ephesians 5:5

Praying as a Servant

Examples for Us

Keep Reading Luther on Trial: The Diet of Worms

From the April 2021 Issue
Apr 2021 Issue